Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Who It Should Not Be: Gregg Williams

One more chance, give me one more chance

Joe Gibbs is gone and January, the month when new coaches bloom wears on and still the Redskins have no head coach. Today The Curly R continues its five part look at the Redskins' coordinators, leading candidates and also rans for the highest profile coaching position in the NFL.

Part One: What A New Coach Means for the Redskins
Part Two: Al Saunders
Part Three: Gregg Williams
Part Four: The Rest of the Pack
Part Five: The Case for Russ Grimm


Offensive coordinator Al Saunders never put the right offense in for the players on the field. Man of the Moment Bill Cowher swears he is not leaving the booth for the sideline in 2008. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams seems to be the lead candidate in a pack of rising assistants.

But it should not be Gregg Williams, he should not be the next head coach of the Redskins.

True that Gregg has put top ten defenses on the field three of four years, yes that's true. True that Gregg has head coaching experience in a field that generally lacks this influential factor, also true. True also that Gregg was overseer of top defenses as Jeff Fisher's defensive coordinator in Tennessee. True that current and former players alike are endorsing Gregg for this job.

To scan his resume he appears very qualified. I however look at the quality of his leadership and output at the points in his career when he had the most authority and I judge him not a good candidate for this team.


Gregg left the Tennessee Titans after the 2000 season, hired by Bills general manager Tom Donohoe, Gregg had beaten out previous Bills coach Wade Phillips' defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell, at the time Ravens and future Redskins defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis and at the time Panthers defensive coordinator John Fox. According to Gregg Bills management wanted him to be a hardass, that under the Wade Phillips regime the team had grown soft. So he was a hardass, cursed a lot and refused to get to know his players. Later his professional distance would be cited as a reason for his failure in Buffalo.

Gregg's first year in 2001 the Bills went 3-13, they had salary cap issues, as much as 20 million in dead cap space from previous years and were cleaning house. Gregg's second year in 2002 the Bills signed Drew Bledsoe, Drew having been demoted in the rise of Tom Brady, and went 8-8.

Prior to that 2003 season there was a great deal of speculation as typified here as to why Gregg and the Bills could not work out a contract deal, Gregg's initial deal being three years and no coach likes to go into a season as a lame duck. As the spring and summer of 2003 wore on Gregg got fed up and ended talks of a contract extension. That season the Bills spent big on signing bonuses in anticipation of a major step forward on the likes of defensive tackle Sam Adams and tailbacks Olandis Gary and Willis McGahee. It did not work out and the Bills finished 6-10.

Declaring the Bills had regressed in 2003 GM Tom Donahoe fired Gregg on 30 December 2003, three days after the final game, a 31-0 loss to the Patriots. Fittingly the Bills had opened the 2003 season on an expectant note, crushing those same Patriots by the inverse score of 31-0.

In the aftermath of the season as Gregg was heading out the door at least two Bills players, cornerback Antoine Winfield and tailback Travis Henry, criticized the coaching staff for a failure to adjust to circumstances as the season wore on, despite the team's only deep passing threat Eric Moulds nursing a groin injury all season and a stable of proven tailbacks Kevin Gilbride's offense stuck to a pass first philosophy. After releasing Gregg GM Tom admitted the players had successfully argued to him that Gregg's team was unable to adjust to change (op. cit.).

For some choice invective about the Bills' mood on Gregg Williams from mid 2003 season through his firing check here, here and here.


We know Gregg moved on to Washington in pretty short order and as soon as the final month of the 2004 season when Gregg engineered the number three defense by yardage in the league despite the league's worst scoring offense at 12.5 points per game that Joe Gibbs was already fighting rumors that he was one season and out and that Gregg would become the head coach.

In 2005 Gregg's mighty defense quote slipped unquote to number nine by yards while the offense nearly doubled its offensive output to 22.4 points per game. Five game run to make the playoffs, a win over the Buccaneers a loss to the Seahawks yada yada. Thangs were looking gut for Gregg.

Then 2006 rolled around. Buoyed by success in his previous two seasons Gregg was given unprecedented control of the defense. By all accounts although Joe Gibbs ultimately takes responsibility for all player selection it was Gregg that made the free agent defensive player picks for 2006. Although Andre Carter is playing well now he did not have a spectacular 2006, unable to play the run which was expected or the pass.

The real stinker though was Adam Archuleta, signed before the 2006 season for the largest safety contract in league history. By the time of opening night Adam had already fallen to a 30 million dollar back up and had Pierson Prioleau not torn up his knee on the opening kickoff of the game Adam would have started the game on the bench.

How could such a smart guy be so wrong about a player?

2006 got worse. As the Redskins spiraled down to the number 31 defense by yards giving up nearly 400 yards per game on Thanksgiving weekend ESPN's Tom Friend published a piece chronicling among other things the complete implosion of the Redskins defense and featuring an anonymous, since pretty much determined to be Adam Archuleta, defensive player attacking the dysfunction in the defensive locker room and in the defensive coaches' suite.

In this piece and here is Curly R's reaction, Gregg is portrayed as someone that believes so strongly in his system that virtually all players are replaceable or at least interchangeable, he professes not to get involved with who makes how much, in fact claims not to give a shit. It was in this time that the Redskins lost linebacker Antonio Pierce, cornerback Fred Smoot, CB Walt Harris and safety Ryan Clark and where those players were replaced at all it was at a much higher price. Gregg's failure to treat players according to their worth or abilities alientated them from him and they began to see his schemes as predictable and Gregg as having too much faith in himself and not enough in the players on the field. In other words, an inability to adjust to changing circumstances, the same charge that ran him out of Buffalo.

It's true this seems to me to be in basic conflict with the notion of spending above market dollars on Andre Carter and Adam Archuleta if you are just going to treat them like any shitass off the street.

To make matters worse the piece goes on to describe interpersonal conflict between two of Gregg's old Buffalo coaches come to the Redskins, cornerbacks coach Jerry Gray, Gregg's former defensive coordinator in Buffalo, and safeties coach Steven Jackson, infantile behavior around who was in charge, who was running what meetings and who pouted because he didn't feel important. When you have players in a game asking if a coach is just going to stand there or coach his position guys you know you have a problem.

Perhaps thinking he was a delegator and the lieutenants needed to work things out for themselves Gregg let it go on and on. If it's true as represented in this piece then it went well past the point where Gregg needed to have a sit down and hug it out.

As the season wore on and came to a merciful conclusion no one had ever sat down with Adam Archuleta and told him what happened, how he disappointed in training camp, why they paid him all that money and then didn't play him and then try and destroy his reputation, this according to the Washington Post (op. cit.) and Adam himself.


So there you go. Why then would I not want him as the head coach of the Washington Redskins?

1. Gregg mismanaged the lame duck contract situation in Buffalo, either in response to some real or perceived slight from Bills management or out of the belief 2003 would be a success and his value on the market would increase, giving him leverage with the Bills and or the ability to leave the Bills for another team, either of which would not enamor him with team players or management. Whether he did it for pride or hubris he blew it and relations with Bills management were never repaired. At least one upstate New York media outlet wrote (op. cit.) at the time that the Bills were dragging their feet on the contract, unhappy with what they perceived as sloppiness, lots of game penalties, game management errors and high coaching turnover. Maybe he learned his lesson that management matters, maybe not.

2. Gregg's Buffalo offense, run by Kevin Gilbride lately en vogue as the NFC Championship bound Giants' offensive coordinator, never adjusted his gameplan as injuries, strengths and weaknesses changed. As a defensive guy head coaching a team was he effectively blind to the performance of the offense, or was he effectively unable to influence an offensive coordinator run amok?

This particular bugaboo, a defensive head coach unable to reel in or affect change on an ineffective offense, should sound familiar to Redskins fans older than 30. When Joe Gibbs stepped down in 1993 and defensive coordinator Richie Petitbon was promoted to head coach Richie promoted Redskins quarterbacks coach Rod Dowhower to offensive coordinator. Rod promptly tried to turn the Redskins overnight into a short controlled passing team, after the season opening and false confidence building Monday Night Football 35-16 blowout of the Cowboys Richie's team only won three more games. One of the key memories I have of that season is watching poor Richie on the sidelines arms folded hand on chin with a blank stare as the offense averaged the league low in yards per pass attempt and couldn't run through an open barn. Mark Rypien may have been many things but a west coast style quarterback he was not, Rod's offense did not recognize this and Richie could not break through and take charge.

It appears a flavor of this has already happened to Gregg Williams as a head coach, would we be seeing history repeat its repeating of itself?

3. In Washington Gregg took his defense's success in 2004 and 2005 too seriously and blew it every possible way in 2006, poor player selection, imperious and arrogant attitude toward player ability and interchangeability and fatal mismanagement of his own assistants, allowing their infantile behavior to spill over into the players and onto game day.

At every point when he appeared to have the most authority he was unable to harness it and produce a winner, either as a head coach or as a defensive coordinator with Washington.

What will happen when Gregg is the undisputed leader of everything? He never cared about management so you can't threaten to fire him. He has a history of rough relations with ownership and his charcter to me cries out someone that will be deliberately different from Joe Gibbs probably enough to piss everyone off just so everyone knows Joe Gibbs is no longer in effect. He seems to have a chip on his shoulder (op. cit.), not the good kind like Norval Turner, beset upon and good natured for so long and now going to the AFC Championship, but the bad kind like Buddy Ryan in Phoenix, pissing off players, coaches and management alike en route to a 4-12 season.

We know Gregg wants to be a head coach and that he is fighting all kinds of labels, elite coordinator but not head coach material a la Norval, rogue agent with his own agenda regardless of the reality around him, arrogant and insensitive not a people person.

Maybe I am wrong and as usual if I am I will write about it. A lot. I'll write about how wrong I was and I'll get to do a whole three part series on the coaching rebirth of Gregg Williams.

But if I were making the decisions I would not risk this team. Three strikes Gregg's out. I don't want to see the Redskins suffer three years of needless mediocrity and bad coaching. Time to clean house.

The Curly R's coach evaluations continue tomorrow with the rest of the pack.

Gregg Williams: uncredited Washington Post image from here.